South Africa is working hard to preserve and protect its indigenous knowledge sources as they have massive potential for research, development, innovation and social cohesion.  This is according to the Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, who addressed the Biennial National Awards for Science and Innovation in Kingston, Jamaica, last night (16 November 2016).

Minister Pandor is visiting the Caribbean nation following an invitation by the Jamaican Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Dr Andrew Wheatley.

The visit coincides with the Jamaica's 2016 National Science and Technology (S&T) Conference and exhibition, held under the theme "Science, Technology and Innovation: Stimulus for Health and Wellness", aimed at profiling Jamaica's capabilities on science, technology and innovation.

Jamaica was the second country in the Caribbean with which South Africa formalised relations in S&T (Cuba was the first).  Last year the Department of Science and Technology hosted a Jamaican delegation for the 2nd Joint Committee Meeting on S&T.  This was linked to two parallel workshops on 18 and 19 November 2015 on indigenous knowledge-based natural products (nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, traditional medicines and herbal beverages) and water.

During last night's address Minister Pandor told the Jamaican audience that in South Africa indigenous knowledge offers great opportunities, not only to those who use it in their daily lives, but also to researchers, government agencies and commercial firms, both foreign and domestic.

Minister Pandor said that one of South Africa's greatest assets was the combination of its rich biological diversity and its wealth of indigenous knowledge.

"Our country is the world's third most biologically diverse country and is home to almost 10% of the world's known plant species and 15% of all known coastal marine species. This capital can be used to the country's advantage in the current economy through multidisciplinary approaches, including providing raw materials for the natural product sector, and bioprospecting with the aim of developing pharmaceutical, cosmeceutical and industrial applications," said Minister Pandor.

Indigenous knowledge is mostly stored in the memories of practitioners and holders and is passed down through the generations by word of mouth.

But South Africa established the National Recordal System (NRS) to preserve this knowledge, and since 2009 several centres have been launched.  By March 2017, each of the country's nine provinces will host a centre to facilitate the preservation and dissemination of indigenous knowledge in the country.

The NRS initiative is designed to find indigenous knowledge practitioners across the country who hold knowledge associated with plant resources in South Africa. This is documented for the purposes of protection, promotion, management and product development.

Minister Pandor, said the urgency of documenting indigenous knowledge in South Africa was underscored by the loss of respected elders in communities before their knowledge was recorded.